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van Gelder, J. G.

    Full Name: van Gelder, J. G.

    Other Names:

    • Jan Gerrit van Gelder

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1903

    Date Died: 1980

    Place Born: Alkmaar, North Holland, Netherlands

    Place Died: Utrecht, Netherlands

    Home Country/ies: Netherlands


    Professor of Art History at Utrecht University. Jan Gerrit van Gelder was the son of H. E. Van Gelder, archivist of The Hague. He attended the Hague Gymnasium and between 1923 and 1927 he studied art history at the University of Utrecht. Early in 1924 he was appointed to Rotterdam’s Boymans Museum. As keeper in the Print Room he acquired a great acumen for drawings and prints. In 1933 he received his doctorate with a dissertation on Jan van de Velde: Jan van de Velde, 1593-1641, teekenaar-schilder. His adviser was the eminent Willem Vogelsang, the first full professor of Art History in the Netherlands. In 1936 he became a privaatdocent at Art History at Leiden University, and, in 1940, director of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie in The Hague. Immediately after the War (1945-1946) he served briefly as director of the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, succeeding Wilhelm Martin. At the Mauritshuis he organized the first post-war exhibitions: Nederlandsche kunst van de XVde en XVIde eeuw and Herwonnen Kunstbezit (Recovered Art from the War). He then succeeded Vogelsang as Professor of Art History at Utrecht University. Under his direction, the Institute of Art History expanded to become an internationally known institution. New professorships were created in architecture (Murk Daniël Ozinga) and Iconography and Early Christian Art (G. J. Hoogewerff) At the invitation of Erwin Panofsky van Gelder spent the 1953-1954 academic year at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton. When Hoogewerff departed the Utrecht Institute, van Gelder replaced him with William S. Heckscher, naming the latter Professor in Iconography and Early Medieval Art. Others he appointed during this time included Henk Schulte Nordholt. In 1959 van Gelder and Heckscher obtained a copy of the prestigious Index of Christian Art for Utrecht. A devoted and inspiring teacher van Gelder attracted numerous students, supervising dissertations topics ranging from renaissance to contemporary art. Under van Gelder, the Institute became a visiting place for scholars from abroad, particularly the United States. Between 1946 and 1976 Van Gelder was an active member of the editorial board of Oud Holland and was instrumental in establishing the Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek (1947) and Simiolus (1966). That same year, van Gelder left the Institute to become the Director of the Centrum voor Voortgezet Kunsthistorisch Onderzoek (Center for advanced art historical research). Van Gelder had made a plea in 1970 for a more scholarly reconstruction of Rembrandt’s patrons. This was largely ignored in the art history community in favor of connoisseurship and attribution models, except for his most famous pupil, Gary Schwartz, who based his career on a study of Rembrandt’s patronage. Van Gelder remained Center until his retirement in 1973, when the Center itself was closed. On the occasion of his seventieth birthday, his friends in art history dedicated to him an Album Amicorum. Van Gelder continued to do art historical research. For six years he also took part in the discussions of the team of the Rembrandt Research Project, which was launched in the late sixties. Van Gelder is known for employing a social history approach in his research. Although he studied already well-researched artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Adam Elsheimer, Aelbert Cuyp and Jan van Scorel, he eschewed the “attribution, style and iconographic analysis” prevalently applied to them for a more rigorous understanding of their social context. His wife, Ingrid Jost, assisted him in many of his publications. They jointly studied the work and life of amateur draftsman and engraver Jan de Bisschop (1628-1671). Jan de Bisschop copied numerous series of antiquities and drawings, and published his etchings in two series: Icones and Paradigmata. Van Gelder’s first publication on this artist dates back to 1955. In 1969, van Gelder decided to publish a new edition with help from his wife. However, the work was still unfinished at the time of their deaths in 1980 and 1981 and the manuscript was completed by Keith Andrews. Van Gelder’s approach, mainly in the field of sixteenth- and seventeenth- century Dutch drawing and painting, is often innovative and revisionist of traditional views. As early as 1946, in his inaugural lecture, he criticized Panofsky’s method of the use of iconology, which van Gelder considered put too much emphasis on the symbolic content of the work of art, neglecting its formal aspects. He argued that the work of art needed to be studied in its own right, as a unity of form and content.

    Selected Bibliography

    [For complete bibliographies, see Verwey E. in Album Discipulorum, 187-205; Album Amicorum, p. 361-364; In Memoriam J.G. van Gelder (1903-1980), p. 69-76.] Jan van de Velde, 1593-1641, teekenaar-schilder. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1933; “De verhouding van de kunstgeschiedenis tot de andere wetenschappen” Oudheidkundig Jaarboek, 1941: 53-58; Kunstgeschiedenis en Kunst, The Hague, 1946; Van Gelder, Jan G. and Jost, Ingrid Jan de Bisschop and his Icones & Paradigmata. Classical Antiquities and Italian Drawings for Artistic Instruction in Seventeenth Century Holland. Edited by Keith Andrews. Doornspijk: Davaco, 1985; Dutch Drawings and Prints. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1959; and Emmens, J. A. De schilderkunst van Jan Vermeer : een voordracht. Utrecht: Kunsthistorisch Instituut, 1958; Vincent Van Gogh: the Potato Eaters, in the Collection of V. W. Van Gogh, Amsterdam. London: P. Lund, Humphries, 1947.


    Bruyn, J and De Jongh, E. (eds.) In Memoriam J.G. van Gelder 1903-1980. Utrecht: Uitgegeven door de stichting Vrienden van het Kunsthistorisch Instituut in samenwerking met de Vakgroep Kunstgeschiedenis van de Rikjsuniversiteit Utrecht, 1982; Ekkart, R.E.O. “Jan Gerrit van Gelder” in J. Charité (ed.) Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland 3 (1989): 187-188; Stolwijk, Chris ‘Die wetenschap noemen Gij en ik kunstgeschiedenis ‘ Denken over kunstgeschiedenis in Nederland: J.G. van Gelder (1903-1980). Steenwijk: Van Kerkvoorde & Hollander, 1991; Stolwijk, Chris “J.G.van Gelder (1903-1980)” in Hecht, Peter; Hoogenboom, Annemieke; Stolwijk, Chris (eds.) Kunstgeschiedenis in Nederland. Negen opstellen. Amsterdam: Prometheus, 1998: 127-143; [Van Gelder is also mentioned in Blotkamp, Carel “Kunstgeschiedenis en moderne kunst: een lange aanloop” ibidem: 89-104, 99-100.]; Album Discipulorum, aangeboden aan Professor Dr. J.G. van Gelder, ter gelegenheid van zijn zestigste verjaardag, 27 Februari 1963. Utrecht: Dekker & Gumbert, 1963; Album Amicorum J.G. van Gelder. Edited by Bruyn, J; Emmens, J.A.; De Jongh, E; Snoep, D.P. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973; Stolwijk, Chris. “J.G. van Gelder en de plaats van de kunstgeschiedenis” Kunstlicht 14, 1 (1993): 15-18; Snyder, James. “Above All, He Pleased his Patrons.” [Review of Gary Schwartz’s Rembrandt]. New York Times Book Review March 9, 1986, Section 7: 9, 11.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen and Monique Daniels


    Lee Sorensen and Monique Daniels. "van Gelder, J. G.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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